In 2015 I gave a talk at the BCS London Lean Kanban Day 2015 then again in adopted version at the Kanban Coaching Exchange which was about what I learned as an Agile Coach going through the English Rugby Union (RFU) Coaching Course.
While putting that talk together it occurred to me that while I have a perfectly fine coaching philosophy for my rugby coaching, I didn’t have one that I’d put together for agile and Kanban coaching. I like to think I followed one anyway, but there are benefits to having an explicit philosophy that you have to confront.
A philosophy helps to maintain clarity, direction and focus in the way you coach and align your behaviours with your values. It can be a anything from a few words, a paragraph or even a picture. Whatever works for you. A good starting point is to think about these questions posed by Joe Ehrmann:
“Why do I coach?”
"Why do I coach the way I do?"
"How does it feel like to be coached by me?"
"What does success look like?"
You should also remember that while you yourself are on a journey, so your philosophy should evolve with you.
Dan’s original coaching philosophy
To Learn and Share. No-one knows everything.
To be Open and Transparent.Challenge things, be prepared to be Disruptive.
Coach Situationally – seek out the Context.
Foster and encourage work to be a Fun and Happy place.
Be Fair and encourage fairness in others.
Be Helpful to everyone.Above all, make a Positive Difference
I posted my philosophy on twitter and linkedin which had some unintended outcomes. I posted it for the same reason I printed it out and put it on my work monitor. I wanted to have to acknowledge it publicly and confront it when things get ‘tricky’. However I saw a lot of likes, favourites and retweets, as well as a few comments and replies.
Some people seem to have seen it as a call to arms for all coaches to adhere to my philosophy, while others are troubled by the line about Challenge and Disruption. I felt quite defensive. I’d never wanted others to want to use my philosophy for themselves – that made no sense to me, and I certainly didn’t want people to challenge it, how could they possibly understand my context and why I had decided to value the things I do. This was a personal thing, and all I wanted to do was share it so other people might think “hey that’s a good idea, I’ll write my own personal philosophy down too.”
I don’t mind if you want to use my philosophy in part or in whole, but I do think you might be missing the point if you do. Let me explain why.
I spent a few days writing down 1 or 2 words at a time on sticky notes about what I value in myself and my mentors. Things I want to do more of. When I hadn’t added any for a few hours, I decided that I probably had enough to be getting on with for now, and anything I missed would probably emerge as I went on. From those words on sticky notes, I created the statements, and threaded them together in a way that made sense to me. I then had a look at the whole and asked myself if that was really what I was about as a coach.
I’d been dissatisfied with myself and my behaviours recently, so I looked to see if the reason might be that I was going counter to my own (previously unspoken) philosophy. It seemed that yes I had. Confronting that in myself has led to me changing some behaviours and I’ve already seen improvements in relationships with some of my colleagues.
I believe that if I had not gone through the process of creating my own philosophy my own way, I would have missed most of the value. If I had just googled it (like the agile principles, or the scrum values) then I would probably like it, but it wouldn’t be as intrinsically personal to me, and so wouldn’t have mattered as much to me.
I recommend you give it a go yourself, if you are new to coaching it will help define what you are about. If you are experienced it will help to formulate it in explicit terms and refocus you on why you got into coaching in the first place. It will also act as a touchstone for how you should act. I try to live up to my philosophy and make sure my actions are aligned to it, that way I can be congruent in my actions and reactions to how I want to act.
The outcome is that I’m actually a happier person, and I think I am in a better place to be a better coach. That to me makes it well worth the effort.
In 2016 I felt the need to take the philosophy on to the next level, make it simpler and shorter. More memorable. Here's how it currently stands. It will be interesting to see how it evolves again in the future
Dan’s updated coaching philosophy
Simplify and Inspire in a Fun and Safe way. Always be Positive, Open and Transparent.